A smoother Western hemisphere, mysterious material unearthed by impacts, magnesium in the exosphere and a dynamic magnetic field are some of the newly identified features of Mercury revealed by MESSENGER during its second flyby of one of the least-explored planets.
The spacecraft MESSENGER skirted Mercury’s surface on October 6 in the second of three scheduled flybys before ultimately entering the planet’s orbit in 2011. During the second flyby, MESSENGER captured over 1,200 images, including never-before-seen views of the Western hemisphere of the planet closest to the sun. Scientists unveiled their findings in an October 29 press briefing at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C.
This new data, when combined with images collected from MESSENGER’s first flyby and data from Mariner 10 — the only other spacecraft to image Mercury in the 1970s — surveys about 95 percent of the planet, giving researchers a global view of the body.
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